The Reality of Motherhood

by Kate Parlin
Originally Published: 
A baby sitting on a baby chair and making a mess with chocolate

I am not the mother I always thought I would be.

When I was pregnant with my twins, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my first-born children, I idealized the hell out of motherhood.

I imagined a sweet, soft newborn on each shoulder and could practically feel their little puffs of breath on my neck. I pictured myself smelling like cookies and sunshine, driving along and singing as tiny feet kicked happily. I dreamed of laughing with them in a sunny field, of braiding their hair, of whispering secrets, of always, always adoring them, as they would surely adore me.

I thought I would be Marmee from Little Women, but with better hair and cuter shoes.

And then I actually became a mother.

Every parent knows what it’s really like. If I’m singing in the car, it’s because I’m desperate for someone to stop crying. We don’t really frequent sunny fields, and my kids put up such a fight at just combing their hair that I can’t imagine trying to braid it. The demands of motherhood get to you. Most days, you’re not really thinking about how much you and your kids adore each other because you’re just too damn tired. Cheerios for dinner? Yup. Skip bath again tonight? Sure thing.

And yet, even as bleary-eyed as I am, even though I spent much of yesterday in tears of angry frustration because no one listens to me, I still find myself idealizing motherhood.

In a quiet moment when the kids are sleeping (it really only happens when they’re sleeping), I get those bright, shining images in my head again. I think, as I lie in bed at the end of a long day, about how maybe tomorrow I’ll be more cheerful. Maybe tomorrow I’ll smell like sunshine and my kids and I will really adore each other.

Motherhood is made up of more hard work than sunny picnics or whispered secrets, but I think we have to idealize it anyway. It may be part of our DNA; I don’t think we can help it, and it keeps us going, day after day. I know full well that my children are not angels, and neither am I; except that sometimes, for sweet, brief moments, we are.

When I’m kissing one of the twins goodnight, leaning over with an aching desire to be done for the day, she takes my face in her hands, covers it with a dozen delicate kisses, and giggles. I giggle too, and I can feel it.

When I pull a child onto my lap to tie a shoe, and she curls into me and says, “I’m in my nest,” I can feel it.

The softness of a little arm resting around my neck lingers, even in the face of a house covered in mess, of my clothes covered in goo, of my longing for a break, a rest, peace.

Some days, the reality of motherhood is so hard that you can barely breathe; you don’t know how you’re going to make it through the next hour, let alone the next day, the next eighteen years. You just slog through because you have to, and you feel like your entire life is made up of bad choices, bad days, and bad breath. And it’s important to talk about it, to share our struggles with other parents and be completely honest.

But I think we still have to hold onto the dream version of motherhood, too. If we don’t idealize motherhood, at least a little bit, no one’s going to choose to have children anymore. We’ll become a nation of old people, shuffling around in a dull, crumbling world. So even if the lovely, idealized side of motherhood only shows itself in small moments, like pale glimpses of sunlight on a cloudy day, I’m going to keep looking for it.

It’s there. I can feel it.

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